A perennial ground cover can be your one-step solution to a large space where grass has trouble establishing. Use these plants to bring color to shade, stop slope erosion and fill in those tight spots where the lawnmower is useless, suggest Purdue University's Professor of Horticulture Dr. Michael N. Dana, Ph.D. and Extension Home Horticulturist B. Rosie Lerner. Ground covers will return year after year to give low-maintenance performance.
Basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) brings a bright yellow carpet to the spring garden. Standing 6 inches to 1 foot tall and up to 18 inches wide, this European perennial ground cover is a popular rock garden plant. Its flat-topped, deep golden yellow flower clusters appear in April and May. Attractive, greenish-gray basal foliage remains when flowering has finished. Basket-of-gold is hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant it in full and well-drained, dry sandy soil, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden. It suffers in humid areas, heavy clay and may develop root rot where drainage is poor. It also attracts aphids. Provide afternoon shade where summers are exceptionally hot.
Rock rose (Helianthemum mutabile) is a 6-inch to 1-foot high perennial hardy to minus 20 degrees F. Its woody stems, spreading up to 3 feet, have lance-like, greenish-gray 1- to 2-inch leaves. From May to July, rock rose has clusters of 1-inch rose-like flowers. During its 24 hours of bloom, each flower changes from pink to lilac and finally to white. Under the best conditions, flowering will be heavy enough to conceal the foliage.
Use rock rose as a ground cover, border edging or in a rock garden, suggests the Missouri Botanical Garden. Space ground-cover plants 2 to 3 feet apart. It thrives in full sun and dry, well-drained, alkaline (pH above 7.0) soil. Sandy loam is best. Plants with poor drainage are highly vulnerable to rotting. Provide a winter mulch of evergreen boughs in the colder areas of its hardiness range.
Navelwort (Omphalodes cappadocica 'Starry Eyes') is a borage family perennial up to 8 inches high. Its heavy clumps of lance-shaped green leaves have stems of loose flower clusters in May and June. A single white ray down the center of each blue petal gives the flowers a starry appearance. Newly-opened flowers have pink edges that fade to white as they age. Perennial navelwort, says the Missouri Botanical garden, is a good ground cover for shady areas or rock and woodland gardens. Hardy to minus 10 degrees F, it likes rich, averagely moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade.